The COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force, led by Ximena Garcia, heard speakers from three efforts across Kansas to address vaccination disparities in their community. (March 10, 2021, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — A concerted effort among community stakeholders to get communities of color vaccinated against COVID-19 has driven up rates but a state task force is still seeking ways to bring them fully even with their white counterparts.
Members of the Kansas COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force have pointed to meeting these communities where they are at in vaccination efforts would be key. In the Latino community, crossing the language divide has been a primary effort.
Aude Negrete, executive director of the Kansas Hispanic and Latin American Affairs Commission, said a weekly Facebook live show “Kansas Al Dia” about the pandemic with factual updates has gone a long way. Her commission has also worked to bring new stakeholders from across the state together to create more bilingual resources.
“Centering and respecting Latino voices to gather information on a weekly basis and collaborate in solutions with Latino organizations that target issues affecting our community has been really key to our success,” Negrete said. “They know their community best, and they’re able to help us deliver the materials we create together.”
The Kansas COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Taskforce met Thursday to hear from different groups about how they were leveraging resources to best reach their community, including Latino, Black and disabled communities. The task force is led by Ximena Garcia, special adviser to the governor for COVID-19 vaccination equity, with assistance from Marci Nielsen, chief adviser to the governor for COVID-19 coordination.
To date, 947,390 Kansans have received both doses of the vaccine, and 1,212,530 or 41.6% of Kansans have received at least one dose. About 241 per 1,000 Black Kansans and 120 per 1,000 Native American Kansans have been vaccinated compared to approximately 338 per every 1,000 White people.
Another route taken to connect the community to vaccination resources and ensure people have correct and well-vetted information is through religious communities. In Wyandotte County, the health equity task force brought together an ecumenical community of pastors and churchgoers from different races and ethnicities.
Rev. Tony Carter Jr. at Salem Baptist Church has been a driving force of that effort alongside Broderick Crawford, executive director of the NBC Community Development Corporation and a member of the state task force. Carter and Crawford are focused on a bottom-up approach to their advocacy, making sure the people in the communities are heard about their concerns.
“I guarantee you every neighborhood has a person who looks out the window and sees everything. That is the person we want to touch base with,” Crawford said. “We have to make sure that what works for Latinx, what works for African Americans, what works for refugees, what works for those with disabilities were all brought to bear.”
Martha Gabehart, executive director of the Kansas Commission on Disability Concerns provided an informational overview of how to increase inclusivity when doing outreach to people with disabilities. She noted things like Braille, captioning, and even dietary concerns may be among the topics or actions considered when doing this advocacy work.
“Disability is non-discriminatory. It’s a part of being a human being, and we’re all just an accident away, illness or aging into a disability,” Gabehart said. “So, any group that you are targeting to present a message about vaccination is going to include people with disabilities.”
Statewide, regardless of race, the total number of vaccines being administered has notably dropped off. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the number of vaccinations has decreased from 100,000 a week to just under 60,0000.
Norman also advocated for a more targeted approach to encouraging more people to get vaccinated, even going as far as finding fishing holes behind dams to offer shots. At the current rate Norman said it will take another seven months to reach a safe point.
“We are putting the pedal to the metal in terms of vaccine hesitancy and a lot of people that I would call the vaccine lazy. They plan on getting it but just haven’t gotten around to it yet,” Norman said.
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